Okta’s Innovation Lab: Revolutionizing nonprofit collaboration

The Innovation Lab launched in 2021 with a bold mission: Empowering nonprofits with long-term, no-strings-attached support that includes financial investment, technology, and expertise. We believe this method enables nonprofits to make the greatest impact possible.

It’s a new philosophy for philanthropy—and one that we put to the test with three global charities:

  • Tech Matters, as it designed and built the Aselo call center solution for children’s helplines everywhere
  • TechnoServe, as it connected with micro-retailers to enhance and modernize their businesses for growth
  • Mercy Corps, as it created the Sprout platform to support the developing world’s smallholder farmers

And the philosophy has proven effective. In just over one year, these nonprofits have used their new knowledge, tools, and capabilities to drive massive change for their communities. Look at how far these projects have come.

Expanding support systems for children in crisis

Digital technology may have revolutionized call centers in recent years. Still, for some of the most critical call centers of all—child helplines—there’s a pressing need to bring systems up to date, design for unique use cases, and protect access to sensitive data.

For child helplines, access is everything—enabling youth to connect with crisis counselors across any medium or channel, and enabling counselors to track and manage individual cases and efficiently connect kids to resources. Identity and access management provides interoperability between platforms, secure and centralized repositories of information, and seamless provisioning and deprovisioning of authorized users to different applications.

Improving access is what Aselo, the children’s helpline solution launched by Tech Matters, has been working on with the Innovation Lab for the past year. Okta has helped make Aselo a success by providing identity and access management support.

At present, the team is busy working on a suite of new features, including:

  • Supporting complete integration between user management in Microsoft Azure and Okta Single Sign-On
  • Consolidating the interface so counselors can search resources and make referrals during conversations
  • Enabling users to share media files such as videos, images, and voice notes, even on text-based channels

And Aselo recently made major user interface upgrades with more standardized and accessible components. For instance, they added new webchat features, mobile-friendly widgets, and improved infrastructure to support helplines in setting up and scaling up with Aselo.

Technology is best when it quietly makes things effortless. As engineers, we build something, and we want it to be seen, noticed, and praised. But helpline counselors are focused on helping the kids who reach out to them and need the technology to quietly support them. There’s a ‘wow’ moment when they move to Aselo—it looks so nice and does so much more—but eventually, they’ll come to view it as an extension of themselves and almost forget that it’s there. And that’s how it should be.” — Nick Hurlburt, Director of Engineering, Aselo

Another recent win: Helplines in Malta and Hungary have now adopted Aselo—and thanks to those aforementioned infrastructure improvements, Malta was the fastest launch to date. As for Hungary’s child helpline, Kék Vonal, Aselo will be used to provide assistance and services for Ukrainian refugees.

Aselo has recently gone live with Childline Zimbabwe, Para la Confianza's helpline Linea Libre in Chile, and Childline Thailand. As part of these launches, members of the Aselo team were on the ground with each helpline team to help train and prepare their teams to go live with the new technology.

Local perspective: The Hub

Childline Thailand is a lot more than just a call center. Ahead of the launch, the Aselo team was onsite in Bangkok to conduct a training session and experience The Hub. This is a physical walk-in center operated by Childline Thailand, where children in need can receive food, shelter, educational support, and several other services.

“The amount that The Hub achieves in a relatively small building — acting as a school, a home, a vocational training center, and more — was simply astounding, and the compassion of the staff who work there is nothing short of heroic,” says Catherine Zhang, Associate Product Manager at Aselo.

“It’s exciting to think what a difference Aselo will make for these counselors, who are so busy helping the children that they haven’t had the time or resources to upgrade their systems and are still using analog and manual processes,” Zhang says.

During our visit, the Hub staff were still using a physical book to record intake data for children before that information got manually transferred to a spreadsheet every week,” recalls Zhang. “By using Aselo to streamline their data collection and analysis, we can hopefully make reporting easier and more accurate, and ensure that they’re able to continually secure the funding that they so deeply deserve.

The session with Childline Thailand was especially successful thanks to the participation of Humairaa Mahomed, partnerships manager at Aselo, who coordinated and led the training in collaboration with a local translator. Since the start of Tech Matters’ mission with Aselo, she’s been indispensable in building relationships with helplines worldwide.

See TechMatter’s progress with the Innovation Lab by the numbers.

Elevating Africa’s tech ecosystem with seamless access

Across the developing world, and especially in the emerging economies of Africa, most people go to small, locally owned and operated shops for everyday goods and services. This type of shop is known as a micro-retailer — a “duka” in Kenya — and over the past year, TechnoServe has embarked on an ambitious program to connect micro-retailers with a centralized repository of tools and apps to help owners build their small businesses.

First and foremost, this requires a single platform that connects duka owners to software providers — and several vendors have signed on to include their apps in this newly burgeoning tech ecosystem. Once they fully integrate into Okta tenants, this project can expand in multiple new directions. Some of the local innovators already engaged include

  • APA Insurance, for claims
  • Tanda Africa, for financing
  • Uzapoint Technologies, for point-of-sale
  • Pezesha, for financial services

TechnoServe is also currently discussing partnership opportunities with Elloe, an AI company whose chatbot could extend a duka owner’s presence across social media platforms.

And while the previous portion of the project focused on collecting feedback from micro-retailers regarding their experience onboarding and accessing applications, a new phase is moving forward in which duka owners will test the integrated solution as part of a pilot program.

Innovation is hard and messy, and there is rarely a straight line from idea to end solution. There was definitely a period where I wondered how this project with TechnoServe was going to be possible. But in the past month, I’ve really been able to see how much progress has been made.” — Brad Goettemoeller

Local perspective: Damaris Wambua

While software vendors are helping drive this project, what really makes it possible is the enthusiastic participation of duka owners. Damaris Wambua stands out as a stellar example. She embraced the opportunity to test every app TechnoServe brought her while also mobilizing other micro-retailers to join the program.

Many duka owners are fairly new to digital business solutions. They may quickly provide negative feedback when using apps that are confusing or unintuitive for them — but from the beginning, Damaris has understood that there would be a learning curve. That patience and perseverance would pay off.

It has — and now, not only is she well-positioned to modernize her micro-retail business, but she’s added real value to this project and helped make it more accessible for everyone by providing her perspective on both the positive and the negative.

The Innovation Lab is actively listening to that feedback — which is why Rosina Lambright, Customer Success Manager at Okta, traveled to Kenya during her vacation to meet the TechnoServe Country Director and the Okta program team. While there, she had a chance to listen to first-hand feedback from duka owners, audit their internet speeds and technological capacity, and help chart a course for the continuity of the program.

See TechnoServe’s progress with the Innovation Lab by the numbers.

Enabling adaptation and resilience for a warming climate

According to the OECD, global demand for food will double by 2050, and much of that demand will come from the developing world.

Today, about 25% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is engaged in agriculture, with approximately 51 million farmers — but that may not be enough to supply the demand. The environmental shocks of climate change are disrupting the traditional ways of working that have served these communities for generations.

And these farms aren’t large — 80% of them average two hectares in size, and those who own and work the land are considered smallholder farmers.

There are resources that can help smallholder farmers enhance their productive yields and agronomic practices, but digital delivery, localization, and accessibility have been barriers. Sprout Open Content Platform was developed by Mercy Corps AgriFin to dismantle those barriers.

Identity is helping drive this by bringing together relevant data sources, content creators, and farmer-facing organizations on a centralized, open-access platform. With one-click access to useful tools and up-to-date information, Sprout enables smallholder farmers to be more future-proof, profitable, regenerative, and sustainable.

Looking to the Leaders: Elias Nure and Kristin Peterson

From the beginning, Elias Nure and Kristin Peterson, Sprout Platform Leads at Mercy Corps AgriFin, have been leading the change and the charge with this project.

Their latest initiative has involved partnering with weather information providers to build and package dynamic digital advisory services that help smallholder farmers make decisions based on real-time weather patterns and forecasting, combined with robust data.

The Digital Weather Advisory Services joins an ecosystem of expert and scientific content and dynamic services made highly available and hyper-local through Sprout.

See MercyCorps’ progress with the Innovation Lab by the numbers.

A powerful new model for giving back and changing lives

With the Innovation Lab, Okta for Good set out to reimagine how enterprise organizations design and dispense grants for the world’s nonprofits. As this program demonstrates, investing with more than a check can enable more lasting returns for society, helping to move the needle toward a more equitable, sustainable, and hopeful future.

Okta’s commitment to giving back extends beyond the Innovation Lab. Okta for Good offers discounted pricing for eligible 501c3 organizations, ensuring civil society organizations can receive the full benefits of technology. Over the course of the Innovation Lab, we’ve seen Sprout, Aselo, and TechnoServe strengthen their identity practices, building a strong foundation to scale their services.

That’s why Okta for Good is so committed to the goal of supporting global nonprofits. Learn more about the team’s programs, projects, and partnerships that connect the world’s charities with modern identity and security solutions their communities count on.